Help! I want to manage my emotions at work!

We experience many emotions at work both pleasant and unpleasant. Our emotions are triggered by numerous situations, internal states, people that we interact with. The experience of emotions is inevitable, however, managing emotions at work is essential for effective functioning and well-being. Regulating or managing emotions can happen in several ways, and often begins by first recognizing them and identifying situations, events that surround these experiences and then understanding how we may have interpreted them. Modifying the way we interpret or appraise a situation can reduce the intensity of an emotion. This is called reappraising the situation. Reframing or viewing the situation from a more positive or an alternate perspective is also helpful, as many workplace situations cannot be changed.

There are several other ways in which the intensity of our emotions can be regulated. These include practicing a relaxation skill- such as deep breathing, engaging in activities that are pleasurable. These can help us reduce the experience of the emotion. While it may not always be possible to alter the actual events that take place in our work place we can regulate our reactions to them.

Q1 Very frequently, I feel angry at how work is allocated by the bosses…It really affects my peace of mind. What can I do?

Answer: Anger is a universal emotion, which can have a deleterious effect on our health and well-being if experienced frequently and for prolonged periods of time. Bodily changes such as increased blood pressure, heart rate and muscle tension as well as anger related thoughts impact our experience of well-being.

The way we appraise situations (such as “why is that only I am allocated all the work”, “It is unfair that I have been given all the work and others are let off”) can influence the experience of anger. The experiences of anger can be modified by re appraising the situation in a more positive way. Using assertive communication, when there is no obvious threat to one’s job is also helpful in not allowing stress and anger to build up.

Simple ways of relaxing such as deep muscle relaxation, deep breathing, can reduce the physiological effects of anger, physical activities can help to channelize the emotion. In some situations, acceptance is also a helpful strategy.

Q2. I feel left out at work as others in the team have their own small groups… I feel I am not like others and am alone.

Answer: Negative emotions are often generated by the way we appraise situations or others’ actions, and are based on our beliefs of how we would like to be treated by others, accepted or our fears of rejection. These are called thinking styles or patterns as they tend to recur over time and across events. Thinking styles do not always reflect the actual situation as they may be biased based on our beliefs about interpersonal relations. It may help to check if there are alternate ways of interpreting peoples’ actions and interpersonal situation. Likewise we can also identify if we are making conditional statements regarding our self-worth based on how others behave (If I have been left out of this group, then it means that I must be unworthy- leading to sadness).Moreover, approaching one or more persons with whom we may a bit comfortable and gradually beginning to interact with them ( rather than avoid/distance) can help break the ice, help people understand us better and increase the chance of building working relationships.

Q3. The pressure is too much to handle. I am constantly stressed trying to manage all that is assigned to me.

Answer: Time is a limited resource, and when used effectively it can result in time for leisure and other activities. Stress and pressure at work can build up as a result of ineffective time management. One can start by creating a log of all activities assigned, thus identify time required for each activity, and prioritize them.Logs can be created for work, personal and other domains such as family. These lists can be revised periodically based on our needs.

Delegating work when it can be done by others can also help to reduce the pressure of excessive work. Non-delegation often happens when work is not delegated due to excessive need for perfection, control or an excessive sense of responsibility. Sometimes, when there is too much planned in too short a time, it can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed. Setting excessively high standards for self, or unrealistic goals or poor planning of time and tasks are common reasons for this sense of being overwhelmed. Identifying top time wasters (telephone calls, colleagues dropping in at your desk) and distracters and working towards reducing these can result in better management of time and less pressure.

Expert: Dr. Paulomi Sudhir, Professor, Consultant Behaviour Medicine Unit,

Dept. of Clinical Psychology, NIMHANS, Bangalore-29